Many years ago, chestnuts made a rich and hearty meal by themselves, or so the story goes. But today they're more commonly served after dinner or as an afternoon snack. Fragolino, a sparkling red dessert wine that tastes remarkably like strawberries, is a perfect accompaniment and can be ordered through the A. Litteri Italian grocery store (202-544-0184) for $17 per bottle.
When buying chestnuts, look for those that have dark brown shells and no blemishes or signs of mold. Store them in a bowl covered with a dish towel, not in a plastic bag, so that they stay slightly moist but don't spoil.
- 6 to 8 fresh whole chestnuts
Use a small, sharp knife to score the round side of each chestnut, slicing through the shell. This will allow steam to escape while the chestnuts are cooking.
Place the chestnuts in a medium skillet. (Chestnut roasting pans, which look like skillets with holes in the bottom, are available but not required). Do not overload the skillet; all the chestnuts should be touching the bottom so that they cook evenly.
Begin roasting the chestnuts on the stove over low to medium heat. Shake the skillet or move the chestnuts frequently to avoid charring. Roasting usually takes 10 to 20 minutes but can take longer, depending on the size of the chestnuts. The chestnuts are ready when their shells start peeling back and the hearts of the nuts are firm yet tender.
Peel the chestnuts while they're still hot; the shells harden as they cool. One trick to avoid burning your fingers is to put the hot chestnuts in a dish towel and begin cracking them with your hands (the shells are quite brittle at that point and will break easily). Then strip away the remaining pieces of shell and the fuzzy membrane that sometimes sticks to the flesh. Serve warm.
From Emily Langer, editorial aide in the Outlook section.
Tested by Emily Langer.
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